The AFL is arguably Australia’s best run and most profitable sports organisation, and it’s move to set up its own media unit reveals that its big ambitions continue to grow.
Last night ABC’s Mediawatch program – had a look at the Herald Sun. The Melbourne newspaper is attempting to introduce a paywall and figuring out what readers will pay to read online.
The obvious answer was AFL and crime news, and anyone who has ever read the Herald Sun knows how much the publication dedicates its coverage to Aussie Rules. It’s their lifeblood.
But opposing that now is another bold play – the AFL’s establishment of its own online media outfit called AFL Media.
This media unit has around 40 journos and nearly 100 staff. Its job will be to cover all things AFL-related, run afl.com.au, shoot interviews and other video content, photograph games and to break news.
The AFL also appear to have purchased Slattery Media’s photography arm and image contracts, now rebranded as AFL Photos.
Essentially, AFL Media it will be a big competitor to the Herald Sun, The Age and every other major outlet covering the AFL.
A sport having its own media unit is not new – several sports do it in the US. But it’s ground-breaking in Australia, and poses many questions.
Can AFL Media be independent and impartial enough to report on the tough issues and events in the game without fear or favour? Will it be ‘good’ news only and not ‘bad’ news?
Will all the AFL clubs be forced into giving exclusives to AFL Media? Some are already claiming that this is happening. Will other media outlets have their access to AFL players, coaches and officials restricted?
Will fans prefer to go the AFL itself for all the news and views on the sport instead of the likes of the Herald Sun, Fox Sports or other media players?
You can look at the case of Jason Mifsud – did AFL Media go at the story hard enough? Can they really be expected to, when he is their employee?
Part of the point of having your own media unit is for marketing purposes – the AFL can better promote its brand, the strengths of the sport and control its marketing messages when it controls media coverage.
At a time when the AFL has expanded into new markets and secured a massive broadcasting rights deal, it makes clear sense. Competition with other codes is increasing and the AFL is hell-bent on not surrendering its strong position.
But the creation of AFL Media has the potential to anger News Limited, Fairfax Media and the rest, not to mention alienate its own fan base.
It’s a risky move.
The AFL has already angered several media outlets by handing the announcement of weekend teams exclusively to the Seven Network at 6.25pm on Thursday nights, a clause in its $1.25 billion broadcast deal. Teams that don’t follow these rules face fines of up to $10,000.
We are entering a brave new world of sports coverage and media consumption, where the battlelines and rules are not clearly marked, and the AFL is determine to fire off a few shots early in the piece.